There are few situations more distressing for a parent than divorce. Not only are you struggling with your own emotions and the logistical challenges of separating your life from your partner’s, but you must try to remain strong and support your kids.
They may or may not be old enough to understand what’s happening. Either way, they’re sure to be upset about the fact that one parent is no longer in the family home, the possibility of moving to a new home, and general uncertainty about the future.
It’s natural for children to feel hurt and angry. Some harbor feelings of guilt. Many go through stages of grief. Your kids might act out in a variety of ways. One of the biggest challenges during or after divorce can be holidays.
These special occasions entail heightened emotions, with the nostalgia of past family events spurring internal conflict. Holidays are a time that should be joyous and celebratory, but children may experience grief associated with the memory of past holidays.
This, in turn, can cause anxiety about how they’re expected to behave or how they think they should feel. Parents watching their children struggle through these difficult emotions may feel helpless and overwhelmed.
While you can’t turn back the clock and undo your divorce, you can develop coping strategies to support your kids and help them enjoy the holidays as much as possible. It starts with creating a plan for celebrating Christmas after divorce.
Discuss It With Your Ex
In an ideal world, you and your ex are both equally invested in setting aside your personal differences to co-parent children. You want to create as much stability and comfort for your kids as possible so they feel loved and supported.
The best way to deal with holidays like Christmas is to discuss the situation and come to a mutual agreement so you can present a united front. You may ask for input from kids if they’re old enough, but you never want to place the stress and burden of deciding on them — this is your job as the parent.
Create a Plan for Your Family
Your plan for the holidays will depend on your personal preferences. You may want to spend the holidays together as a family, although it might not work during or immediately after divorce for obvious reasons.
You don’t want to confuse your kids regarding your relationship status, so spending holidays as a family might have to be put off for a couple of years. You also may not have enough separation to confidently remain amicable during a stressful and emotional time like the holiday season.
In this case, you’ll want to devise a strategy for dividing time with your kids during the holidays. If one parent celebrates Hanukkah and the other celebrates Christmas, each parent should have time with their kids during their respective holidays.
If you both celebrate several holidays, you may want to split up the days on the calendar and switch between even and odd years. For example, one parent gets July Fourth and Thanksgiving, the other gets Halloween and Christmas, and then you swap the following year.
If your houses are in close proximity, you can also split the day. Kids could enjoy Christmas Eve and morning with one parent, then go to the other parent’s house later Christmas morning and spend the rest of the day.
Work With a Parenting Coordinator
It’s not uncommon for parents to struggle with finding an arrangement that works for everyone. Even if you can agree on the best way to divide parenting time in general, the holidays could pose a range of additional challenges.
What if one parent wants to take kids to visit extended family out of state? Maybe you simply can’t agree on who should get Christmas morning and who should take the afternoon.
This is where an experienced parenting coordinator can help. This professional is skilled at helping parents settle disputes related to sharing parenting duties, co-parenting, and so on. If you need help managing or tweaking your custody and parenting plan during the holidays, a coordinator is a great solution.
If All Else Fails, Follow the Custody Arrangement
Custody arrangements determine how children will split their time between households throughout the year. For some families, this means moving back and forth on alternating weeks. Others switch mid-week. In some cases, one parent enjoys visitation one or two weekends each month.
These agreements are generally designed to serve the best interests of children and when possible, work with parent schedules. Sometimes, the agreement will include instructions regarding how holidays should be split.
If parents are committed to amicable co-parenting, they may not need to address holiday handoffs in the agreement. During a contentious divorce or custody battle, however, the custody arrangement may include detailed instructions for dividing holidays, and if your ex is making waves, just refer to the arrangement to avoid heated arguments.
Helping Kids Struggling in the Aftermath of Divorce
The busy holiday season can be filled with high expectations and stress for parents and children alike. You may find yourself short-tempered, and kids might act out in reaction to the added stress. How can you help kids adjust and improve your own behavior?
This is new territory for many parents, so you might want to take classes designed to provide the tools you need to parent during this tough time. If children are upset, you could try highlighting positive aspects of the situation, like the fact that they get to celebrate twice and enjoy two meals and extra presents on holidays.
Most importantly, you need to validate their emotions, empathize with their distress, and remind them often that both parents love them and want to spend time with them. At the same time, try to remain as consistent as possible with messaging and boundaries.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself as well. Working with a self-care specialist can help you refill your cup, so you have the energy to support your kids. Juggling dual holiday celebrations isn’t easy after divorce, but when you create a plan and follow through, you can provide stability for your kids and ease the transition to a new family normal.